‘We are again in the midst of the squares’.
‘The church with the peculiar steeple seem towering above the surrounding buildings is the parish church of St George’s, Bloomsbury, built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1730.’.
In 1711 Parliament authorised the building of 50 new churches to serve London’s rapidly growing population. This church is in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields which was surrounded by The Rookery. Some members of the parish objected to traversing the slum and appealed for a new church. St George’s Church resulted, completed in 1731, and the sixth and final church built by Hawksmoor. In recent years the church has been significantly restored, although work clearly remains to be done on the fabric of the building.
‘Bloomsbury Square was first laid out by the Earl of Southampton about 1670.’ This was Thomas Wriothesley, the fourth Earl of Southampton – have you read Hilary Mantel’s books which feature ‘Call-me-Risley’..? The square was named after the family, and their mansion. (Very good article and timeline here, and another here.) Bloomsbury Market was created at the south-east corner of the square – perhaps remembered today in ‘Barter Street’? (Interestingly there is now a Farmers’ Market in Torrington Square, part of the Bedford Estate.)
In 1772 Northouck wrote: ‘..Behind, it has the advantage of most agreeable gardens, commanding a full view of the rising hills of Hampstead and Highgate; so that it is hardly possible to conceive a finer situation than that of Bedford House..’.
The plan below is by permission of the Duke and Trustees of the Bedford Estate, on this blog.
From 1723 the area passed, by marriage, into the Bedford Estate, with Southampton House renamed Bedford House. The House was demolished in 1802 and together with its gardens developed for housing as Bedford Place. The 5th Duke of Bedford developed the square, commissioning Humphry Repton to design the garden in c.1806, and this design has been restored today. The square was opened to the public about fifty years ago. (You can even become a ‘Friend’ of the Square now!) I couldn’t find an image of the Repton design, and the image below was the only one which gave some indication of the square in Victorian times, with the railings which were melted down for ammunition in WWII
The statue of Charles James Fox was erected in 1816, facing towards Russell Square, because the Duke of Bedford favoured the politician.
There were many interesting residents. No.6 was home to Isaac D’Israeli between 1817-29, and his son Benjamin, a future Prime Minister, lived there as a child. His neighbour at No.5 (on the left) was Dr Radcliffe, Physician to Royalty. These are 18C houses and may have been by Flitcroft. Dr Robert Willan, the pioneering dermatologist, lived at No.10; Pevsner lived at No.12, and No.29 was home to Sir Edwin Lutyens from 1897-1914, and Sir Hans Sloane, benefactor of The British Museum, lived round the corner in Bloomsbury Place.
And I noticed this curious sign, but failed to investigate!
Nos.16-17 was an early 18C building remodelled by Nash.
The houses on the north side of the square are by James Burton.
In the 19C the aristocrats were moving out of the square, replaced by the professional middle classes, and in the 20C it has become mainly offices. The east side is filled with the offices of the Liverpool and Victoria Friendly Society, built in 1928.
Once Bedford House had been demolished new, elegant housing could be developed in Bedford Place, leading to Russell Square. (Now mainly hotels.)
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